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Soundtrack Listening: ‘Get Out’

Original Music by: Michael Abels

In case you missed it, Jordan Peele’s Get Out won Best Picture at the Oscars this past weekend. No wait, that didn’t happen … no matter what envelope Warren Beatty opened. Still, you might be surprised to learn that Peele’s directorial debut (which he also wrote) landed in the number one spot at the box-office over the weekend. Peele’s racially driven horror film has turned into the year’s first must see film. It’s currently pulling an impressive 99% fresh at Rotten-Tomatoes. Our own Josh Oakley labeled it Essential Viewing. And it obliterated expectations raking in a reported $33.4 million dollars from Friday to Sunday. So look out Hollywood, ‘cause the former Key and Peele star has just announced himself as a director to watch.

The film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris – a young African American man nervous to meet his Caucasian girlfriend’s parents for the first time. The uncomfortable weekend takes a bizarre turn when Chris learns that several black residents have recently gone missing from the parents’ affluent community. You can probably imagine that the rest of the weekend does not go according to plan. Seems making a good first impression will be the least of Chris’ worries.

Sounds interesting, right? It should. Get Out is witty and insightful and genuinely scary in ways that most horror movies are not. It’s brimming with complex racial tensions that Peele seamlessly blends with more traditional horror tropes. The combination of provocative social commentary and genuinely creepy tone make Get Out a wholly unique cinematic experience. Composer Michael Abels’ spirited original score is the glue that holds the film’s complex tonal shifts together. And they weave an unnerving, near psychedelic net behind Peele’s twisty narrative.

That’ll come as no surprise to those of you familiar with Abels’ work. The composer has spent his professional life blending elements of jazz, blues and bluegrass into his more traditional orchestral arrangements. Tonal shifts are kind of his MO. Abels puts his particular gifts to stunning use throughout his Get Out score. The 43 compositions that make up that score blend elements of folky Americana, austere atmospherics, classic orchestral arrangement and traditional African chant. They feature almost no synthetic music. And – per Peele’s specific request – they’re ‘seriously scary’.

They also don’t sound anything like a traditional horror score. The closest Abels comes to that is with ‘Prologue’, the choppy string number that opens the album. That track lasts only 20-seconds. And it effectively puts the listener off kilter. But it still doesn’t prepare you for the album’s second track.

‘Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga’ is the Main Title Theme from Get Out. The ominous plucking and bowing sound like they’re sprung from a backyard jam session in hell. Abels builds on the eerie tone by adding layers of chant over top. The words are sung in Swahili. They loosely translate to, “Brother — listen to the elders. Run!  Brother — listen to the truth.  Run, run far away!  Save yourself.” They sound like tortured African souls calling out from America’s despicable past. It’s deeply unsettling. And it’s creepy as all hell.

The music only gets wilder as the album continues. ‘Chris & Rose’ sounds like a love theme from a lost Hitchcock film. ‘The Deer’ is a chilling, minimalist piece that would feel just as at home in Hitchcock’s twisted world. ‘Hypnosis’ is four minutes of hallucinogenic orchestral lunacy. And ‘Behold The Coagula’ is a subtle but sinister bit of synth work.

Trust me, there’s more. More doom. More gloom. And more mood than you can shake a stick at. I didn’t even mention ‘End Titles (Montage)’ … mostly ‘cause I want it sneak up on you the way it snuck up on me. Just like Abels’ work on the entire Get Out score did. Just like Peele’s film did. So take note of what’s happening here. Get Out has announced Peele as a bold new filmmaker. It’s announced Abels as a bold new film composer – it’s his first movie too. And I cannot wait to see what they both do next.

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Get Out is now playing in theaters across the country. It’s a legitimate must see movie, so make sure you do. And if you like what you see, you really should consider going back and listening to Michael Abels’ score, ‘cause it’s an equally rewarding experience. Back Lot Music has been kind enough to make the soundtrack available digitally. You can check it out right now via iTunes, Amazon or the streaming service of your choice. No word yet on a physical release, but one can only hope that there’s a deal in the works with the crew at Death Waltz Records. Or Mondo perhaps? Please, someone put this album out on vinyl

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Patrick Phillips is a contributing writer for CutPrintFilm and geekinsider.com. When not critiquing the work of others, he spends his time drinking coffee, buying records, writing fiction and wondering why he never started a band. Follow him on Twitter at Patrick Phillips @savagedetectiv